Charting a Course Towards Inclusion

Pictures of Associate Dean Banjo Vice Provost Dean Ward and Associate Dean Collins

Written by Susan Helmick, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate College

A Conversation with Graduate College Leadership on Recognizing Black History Month & Promoting Diversity in Academia

In the halls of academia, the echo of history often reverberates, sometimes reminding us of the strides made, and other times, casting a shadow on the journey toward true inclusivity. As Black History Month ends, it's essential to engage in meaningful dialogue, not just as an acknowledgment of the past, but as a catalyst for shaping the future. At the University of Cincinnati's Graduate College, introspection is a part of its ethos and a cornerstone of its commitment to fostering an environment where every voice is not just heard but celebrated. We sat down with Vice Provost Dean Rose Marie Ward, alongside Associate Deans Omatoya Banjo and Tai Collins, to delve into the Graduate College's journey toward inclusivity and its dedication to supporting African American students.

Historically, higher education institutions have not always prioritized diversity and inclusion. How does the Graduate College acknowledge this history and commit to fostering a more inclusive environment for all students, particularly African American students? 

Vice Provost Dean Ward: The mission/vision of the graduate college is to “Champion a student-centered graduate education environment that integrates diversity, inclusion, and belonging as essential for creating the research, creative works, and scholarship necessary to foster a just and sustainable global society.” We use this framework to make funding decisions, hire personnel and champion our Underrepresented Minority students through annual scholarships to the college and through the Yates Fellowship program.  

Associate Dean Collins: Our leadership also meets regularly with executive administration of the African American Cultural & Resource Center to share ideas and resources. The AACRC is represented on many of our committees as well. 

Associate Dean Banjo: We have acknowledged the history by recognizing the needs for community support and financial support through scholarships like the Yates Program

What specific steps is the Graduate College taking to actively recruit and attract African American students to its programs? Are there targeted outreach efforts or partnerships with community organizations to enhance diversity within the graduate student body? 

Vice Provost Dean Ward: We use the Yates program and scholarships to the colleges to recruit and retain African American students to our graduate programs. In addition, we have active partnerships with Wilberforce and Central State.  

Associate Dean Collins: Partnerships with local HBCUs (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) build pathways for undergraduates at historically Black institutions to pursue graduate education at UC. We’re also discussing opportunities to grow UC graduate students’ experience in teaching courses at these HBCUs. 

Associate Dean Banjo: We realize that the work of recruitment and building safe spaces for African-Americans requires relationship building and partnerships. As such we welcome and seek partnerships with Historically Black Colleges/Universities, HBCU pipeline programs on campus, as well as TRIO programs like the Ronald E. McNair Scholars program to demonstrate our commitment to supporting the success and retention of African American students.

In what ways does the Graduate College support African American students once they are enrolled? Are there mentorship programs, affinity groups, or other resources available to help them navigate academia and achieve their academic and professional goals? 

Vice Provost Dean Ward: We highlight the efforts of the AACRC, the McNair program, and the PR1ZE mentoring program. In addition, we amplify efforts to recruit and retain students in STEM through the UPRISE program for which we provide funding. We also partner with GEM.  

Associate Dean Banjo: Our Yates program requires units to provide mentorship to our students. In addition, here at the Grad College, we manage their Individual Development Plans to help direct them in attaining their goals.

Representation matters in academia. How does the Graduate College ensure that African American students are represented and their voices heard in decision-making processes, academic forums, and leadership positions within the university? 

Vice Provost Dean Ward: We encourage students of all backgrounds to join one of the many subcommittees of Graduate Council. We also regularly partner with student leaders from historically marginalized or underrepresented identities.

Associate Dean Collins: Regular meetings with the AACRC also allow us to share upcoming leadership options so that African American students have access to every opportunity available. 

Diversity goes beyond recruitment numbers. How does the Graduate College promote an inclusive and equitable learning environment where all students, regardless of background, feel valued and supported? 

Associate Dean Collins: Via community and belonging initiatives. Brandilyn Pham, our program manager for community and belonging, is developing a resource guide that will share a variety of on- and off-campus resources for students in the areas of mental health, mentoring, and housing among others. Part of the guide will include contact information for local African American mental health professionals, for example. 

Are there any specific scholarships, fellowships, or financial aid opportunities targeted towards African American students within the Graduate College? How does the college ensure equitable access to resources for underrepresented minority students? 

Vice Provost Dean Ward: Both the Yates and scholarship funds given to the colleges are instrumental in supporting the academic pursuits of underrepresented minority students within the Graduate College. Additionally, the college actively seeks feedback from students to assess the effectiveness of its initiatives and identify areas for improvement in ensuring equitable access to resources for all students, regardless of background or identity.

What steps is the Graduate College taking to incorporate diverse perspectives and experiences into the curriculum? Are there initiatives to expand the curriculum and incorporate more diverse authors, theories, and research methodologies? 

Vice Provost Dean Ward: We've applied for an inclusive excellence grant to build faculty learning communities to help programs evolve their curriculums.  

Associate Dean Collins: This grant will walk faculty through auditing their curriculum to ensure diversity of representation in authors, ideas, and policies in their programs. 

How does the Graduate College engage with the broader community to address systemic barriers and promote social justice in higher education? Are there partnerships with local organizations or initiatives to advance diversity and inclusion efforts beyond the university campus? 

Vice Provost Dean Ward: One example is that the Presidential Fellowship is starting a partnership with the Center for Closing the Health Gap.  

Associate Dean Collins: This partnership with the Center for Closing the Health Gap will focus on implementing targeted initiatives to leverage collective resources toward sustainable solutions to systemic inequities in higher education.

Looking ahead, what are the long-term goals and strategies of the Graduate College to foster a more inclusive and diverse academic community, particularly in relation to the recruitment, retention, and success of African-American students? 

Vice Provost Dean Ward: Every decision we make, we keep this in mind. We do this through education, funding, and changing policies.  

Associate Dean Banjo: We continue our partnerships while seeking ways to train and support faculty to create safe spaces for African-Americans. We also aim to revise policies as well as strengthen recruitment and mentorship to ensure African American students have access and support.


The University of Cincinnati's Graduate College stands firm in its resolve to honor the past, amplify voices, and pave the way for a future where diversity isn't just a buzzword but a lived reality. Through targeted recruitment efforts, robust support systems, and a curriculum reflective of diverse perspectives, the Graduate College is charting a course toward a more inclusive academic landscape and engaging with the broader community to dismantle systemic barriers beyond the confines of UC’s campus.